The Steering Wheel of Your Mind

THE NUMBER OF different ways you can talk to yourself is huge, and some ways are better than others. One way to talk to yourself is to reassure yourself. For example, before a party you might feel a little nervous so you tell yourself, “It’s going to be fine. It’ll turn out okay.”

Another way is to give yourself advice or instruction. You could tell yourself at the party, “Focus on drawing people out and getting them to talk about themselves.”

Another possible way to talk to yourself is to put yourself down. “I look like hell. I’m a loser.”

Or you could ask yourself a question. On your way to the party, you could ask, “What can I do tonight to make it genuinely fun?”

Of all the possible ways to talk to yourself, asking yourself a question is the most powerful. Questions direct your mind and set trains of thought into motion. That’s what makes them so powerful.

Questions are
generative. They generate thought. And because they are so powerful it really makes a difference to pay attention to the questions you ask yourself and make sure they are good questions.

Asking yourself a bad question before a party, for instance, can create excessive anxiety and a negative experience. For example, “What if I can’t think of anything to say? What if I embarrass myself?”

What-if questions like those create a chain of anxious thoughts and images and make you feel nervous. With thoughts like these running through your mind, you arrive at the party feeling uncomfortable and withdrawn. You can’t think of anything pleasant to say (because your own anxious thoughts are occupying your mind) and you embarrass yourself with your own awkwardness — not because there is something wrong with you, but merely because you’re not paying attention to the questions you’re asking yourself, and you’re not asking yourself high-quality questions.

What makes a high-quality question? What makes a question a good question? The answer is simple. A good question has a good result. It focuses your attention on something that makes you effective. It directs your mind to something that helps you successfully handle the situation. A question is good if it leads to a good result.

Bad question: What if they don’t like me?
Good question: What is something I could do right now that would make me more likable?

Bad question: What if I fail to accomplish my goal?
Good question: What’s the most important thing I could do to make sure I accomplish my goal?

A high-quality question is one that produces an end-result you desire. To come up with a good question, ask yourself, “What result do I want?”

And when you decide on a result, ask yourself, “What question can I ponder that would help me achieve that result?” Don’t settle for the first thing that pops into your head! Think about it. Make a list on paper. Force yourself to come up with ten good possible questions. Then choose the best question — the one you think will produce the best result — and practice asking yourself that question. Literally
practice. Ask the question many times. Get used to asking it. Make it familiar and comfortable and automatic.

There are certain times when it would help to ask yourself that particular question. Practice asking your question at those times.

For example, when Katie is preparing for an interview, she doesn’t want her mind to be occupied by the questions that naturally come to her: “What if they don’t want me?” and “What if I make a fool of myself in the interview?” She is fully aware that those questions don’t put her in the best frame of mind to have a successful interview.

She decides a good question to ponder is, “How can I help these people?” That will put her in just the right attitude for an interview. That’s a question that will produce a good result.

So while she is getting dressed for the interview, she asks herself that question. She ponders it. When her mind wanders, she comes back to her chosen question. And in the car, on the way to the interview, she thinks about it some more, trying to think of ways she can help her future employers.

Whenever her mind drifts to her worries, she asks herself, “But how can I help these people?” And even walking into the interview, she is wondering how she can help them.

What do you think would be the difference between Katie sitting down for an interview wondering, “What if they don’t want me?” versus sitting down wondering, “How can I help these people?” What kind of difference would she have in attitude? In her demeanor? In her level of stress hormones? In her focus — outward versus inward? I think you can see it would be a large and visibly obvious difference. The second question would make her more effective in the interview. The second question is more likely to lead to a good result.

Questions drive you to produce answers, and often that drive, that power, can be used to do a tremendous amount of good.

It is especially useful to replace bad questions you are already asking with good questions. For example, a typical question people ask when bad stuff happens is, “Why me? What did I do to deserve this?” It is a question that doesn’t lead to a good result, yet there are plenty of questions you could ask in those circumstance that would benefit you.

The quality of the questions you ask makes a tremendous difference. Ask yourself over and over, “What’s wrong with me?” and your mind will search for answers, finding one after another. Because our brains are driven to answer questions, if you ask this question, you will come up with answers. Do the answers help you?

Compare that question with this one: “How can I prevent this from ever happening again?” Someone who ponders this question will get much more productive answers and won’t create anywhere near the negative feeling as the other question.

The principle is simple: Ask yourself a good question. Think about the questions you ask, and come up with good ones. And when you ask a good question, keep asking it. Any answer you get is only one possible answer. Keep asking and you’ll keep getting new answers. The more answers you have to a good question, the better. And if it is a good question, it is a good thought to practice. Make that good question familiar and comfortable and come to mind easily and often.

If you are only going to use one tool, I recommend you stick with asking a good question. If you do use only this one method, it will singlehandedly help you feel better and get more done.

One of the benefits of asking questions is there is no force in it. You are not
trying, you're not making yourself "be positive," you are merely pondering a question honestly. And it has a real impact.

What questions have you found to have that kind of impact? Make your hard-earned wisdom available to others in the comments on this page.

Here is a list of questions I have found useful: The Top 25 Questions To Ask Yourself.

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